Emotions get a pretty bad rap, even amongst us non-Vulcans. Crying especially is looked at with some disdain. It’s like it’s not just your eye fluid leaking, but your inner untamed beast bleeding into civilized society. Those of us with our hearts on our sleeves often feel like a hot mess. We can’t hold it together, we are letting our inner juvenile out. There is no keep calm and carry it on.
Gender gets its hand in there too. Men are often not raised to stay stoic. Women are more free to be basket cases, but this is a trait considered to be a weakness not a strength – “hysterics” or “histrionic” comes from the root word meaning “uterus.” Females learn Elsa’s lesson to “conceal don’t feel” from the start, especially once you find out your monthly visitor is no cause to skip out on life. (It’s not for nothing that I once held up a sign at a womens’ march saying “anything you can do, I can do bleeding.”)
But as anyone can tell you who has seen “Inside Out,” emotions are nothing to ignore (even if they don’t have cute faces of their own.) Emotions are powerful, pervasive forces that are both uniquely ours and also shared amongst us all. And crying is compelling. It compels others, it compels us.
In a way, tears are language beyond words. Crying connect this social species together at the most important times. In a Smithsonian magazine article, tear macro-photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher says that “Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger and as complex as a rite of passage,” she says. “It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.”
This might seem to be a lot for a droplet of water, but actually tears are far more than that. Tears are complex, full of not just water but also oils, antibodies, and enzymes – and they change according to what you are feeling. There are three kinds of tears, the kind that lubricates the eye, the kind that reacts to stimuli like an onion, and the kind that reacts to emotion. That latter kind includes leucine enkephalin, a protein-based painkilling neurotransmitter that is released when the body is stressed.
Looked at this way, tears are really a sort of liquid language. We might as well be trees, talking via underground fungal networks (an idea popularized by Peter Wohlleben).
But when it comes to crying it’s not all about others. Crying can help you cope. After all, “where there’s tears, there’s hope,” as the Doctor after encountering the crying Cyber Bill in Doctor Who’s “World Enough and Time. If she can cry as a cyberman, she can produce a feeling that can reach out to the world.
In the 1600s people believed that people cried when the heart overheated with emotion and the body responded by cooling it down with a water vapor which rose to the eyes. We now know that tears come from the lacrimal gland, but I’d say that this theory isn’t completely without truth.
We are tiny little organic boats floating in a vast incomprehensible universal sea. There are depths of joy and depths of sorrow that we can’t even begin to imagine. Our emotions are where we interface with all that. Input comes in that is just too much to bear and we react in dramatic ways, and often that means tears. Tears of joy or tears or pain, either way they are us taking into the outside reality and reacting to it. (Of course if we were in a musical we would all just sing a song in times like this – would that we were!) We leak those enzymes out into the world and they transform us into being able to be in it a bit better.
Now you can’t let it all hang out forever. Sometimes we need to get the Kleenex and figure out how we need to change, like Rabbi Twerski’s lobsters needing to molt. If we don’t get over it in some way, chronic stress will take its toll on the body and mind.
But if your inner beast needs to claw its way out, it will do you good to let it roam around for a bit.
To remember that, we can get into Camel Pose, which just so happens to also look like a tear. From a kneel, arch your back backwards and grab your ankles. Just like when you cry, you will feel incredibly open and vulnerable – but also steady and strong.
Also, you can check out what I think to be some of the most compelling cries of fandom – those that profoundly express regret, revelation, despair, and relief. These cries push the narrative and the characters in ways that mere words couldn’t – just like ours can do the same for us.